Parts and other things Naming Conventions and Standards

Jun 5, 2023 | Leadership in Maintenance Articles, Resource Library, TRM Blog | 0 comments

John Q. Todd

Sr. Business Consultant/Product Researcher

Total Resource Management (TRM), Inc. 

TRM and IDCON are frequently asked how to best establish a naming (or numbering) convention for records such as spare parts, assets, items in inventory, and the like. It can become a sensitive topic because there are many opinions, approaches, and even some industry/government standards that exist to form your way forward. All have validity and none are wrong per se.

In the end the crucial outcome is the ease and efficiency with which a user of the solution can search, filter, and simply locate the records they are trying to find. It does not matter if you are successful at implementing a numbering scheme or naming convention if it makes no sense to your user communities. It is even worse if they have handwritten sticky notes pasted to their monitor that explain the components of the scheme.

Is there a commonly agreed upon approach?

The simple answer is kind of. If one searches the internet for advice, “parts naming conventions,” for example, you will find a plethora of sources who are very willing to tout their approach to you. If you boil them down a bit, they come out to the following:

  • Noun, qualifier(s)
  • Noun, modifier(s), attribute(s)
  • Non-intelligent
  • Intelligent

The first question you may have asked is, “Are they talking about the record/ID number field in the database, or are they talking about the Description field of the record?

Here is a screen shot out of a popular CMMS solution called Maximo. You can see the fields for the record number (Item) and the Description. It is important to know there is a difference in function and purpose between these two typical fields.

Initial advice?

Start with pondering your approach to the “record number,” field. Whether the records are for a spare part, an asset, or anything else you have lots and lots of. In general people just allow this number to be a sequential and alpha-numeric value that has no intelligence to it. As new records are added, they are assigned the next available number. This ensures each record is unique, and… here is the important part… any intelligence such as location, type, vendor, etc. is stored elsewhere on the record.

Case in point: The client had created a numbering scheme for their asset records that included a Location code. The trouble began (almost immediately) when the asset was physically moved to a new location. Now the “smart” number was no longer valid, and everyone must remember where the asset actually is. You need to be very careful when considering the use of “smart,” numbers.

If you are ordering parts from a vendor that has their own “catalog number,” you certainly could have records in your system that mimic their numbers. But what happens when they change those numbers? It happens more often than you think. Now you must adjust your scheme to match theirs.

Rather, your “main” record for the part can have a simple alpha-num, and elsewhere on the record you indicate the vendor(s) various catalog number(s). If there is a vendor change, you just add that fact to your record. No upheaval for you.

Now comes the tricky part

What to do with the ‘heavily relied upon for searching by many different User communities,’ Description field?

Here is where some flavor of the Noun/Attribute approach comes into play. Remember, the end goal here is to provide information in searchable fields that benefit those who are doing the searching. Even with an approach or format, if the information is too cryptic, they will never find what they are looking for. Even worse, the sets of records they do find may be missing the important ones!

Let’s stop here a moment and expand the use of the Description field to go beyond just parts. Other records in your CMMS/EAM can benefit from this Noun/Attribute approach. Here are a few:

  • Assets
  • Locations
  • Job Plans
  • Inspection and Calibration templates
  • Service Requests and/or Work Orders

The list can go on and on.

Our point here is no matter the record you are focused upon, the contents of the lowly Description field, in conjunction with other fields on the record, are critical to the success (and happiness) of your Users.

Can standards help me here?

Yes. Let’s look at the very commonly used National Stock Number (NSN) system. (As a fun side note, there are also NATO Stock numbers, Commercial stock numbers, and Military part numbers… all of which are formats you can consider!)

NSN numbers certainly have a degree of intelligence to them. The 13-digit number consists of two parts, the first four digits are the Federal Supply Classification (FSC) and the remaining 9 digits are the National Item Identification Number (NIIN). The FSC has two parts: The first two digits are for the broad scope of the item called the Federal Supply Group (FSG). The third and fourth digits are for further definition of the item. The NIIN identifies the country that assigned the NIIN, then the rest of the digits make the record unique.

If you are familiar with the NSN format, you can search for (and find) the parts you are looking for. Note however, that the intelligence built into the NSN numbers are unlikely to change. Numbers may be retired, and new ones added, but any particular number would not need to change.

Yes, you could adopt the NSN method of part numbers into your system. Going back to earlier in this article, if you would benefit from the record number to have some degree of smarts in it, then the NSN model (or a flavor of it) may help you.

But the real power of standards is their adherence to the noun/attribute approach to DESCRIBE the item.

Other examples of standards/approaches are those in the facilities or construction fields. UNIFORMAT and OMNICLASS are two we run into quite often. UNIFORMAT breaks the components of a building into categories such as the shell, interiors, services, etc. Then the next levels down define components like foundations, basement construction, etc. This approach could be used for both Location and Asset record descriptions.

OMNICLASS is used to classify a constructed built environment. It is used to specify the elements of the construction, as well as playing a significant role in the National Building Information Model (BIM) standard. Maximo, by the way, supports the import of BIM/CoBIE models to be used to form Location and Asset hierarchies.

Ok, let’s talk about that Description field again.

Look at the Description field in this screenshot again.

It’s a Plug (noun)… what kind of “plug?”

A spark (modifier or attribute) plug.

Ok, so that really narrows things down. But, of course, there are many, many different types of “spark plugs” in the world. This is where the rest of the description… the attributes of the item… are important.

Now a User can search for “plug, 0.25 mm” and get a far shorter list of records than just “plug.” This is our goal.

Let’s talk about records other than just parts for a moment. Take an asset in the field for example. It may have an asset number assigned to it in the system. It might have a property number and even a bar or QR code label stuck to the side of it. Users can scan the code and the record appears in the system for them. Easy.

But what if the user is looking for all the pumps in the field that have a certain attribute? “Find me all the pumps in the field with a 3-inch output port.”

If the Description field for your assets has information in it like, “Pump, Water, 3.0 inch In, 3.0 inch out” then your users will easily find the list of these pumps. If the Description field is populated inconsistently, then it is anyone’s guess what they will get out of their searches.

As a side note, some CMMS solutions, like Maximo, can use the item or part Description field to populate any new Asset record field that is created from it. Now you only must focus on your foundational item or part records and let them be the reference for new asset records. Bunch of time saved there.

Another standard that you can leverage if you are maintaining a fleet of vehicles is the Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards (VMRS). This scheme provides a classification system by which you can describe the elements of a vehicle such as motors, brakes, seals, axles, etc. Then, as work is performed on the vehicle (an asset), the parts replaced (items/materials) and work performed is “coded” using the VMRS guidance. This then makes it easy to look back and analyze where all your maintenance budget is going. VMRS can be used to drive the contents of the Description field, just as with any of the previous standards mentioned.

What are Classifications and Attributes?

Specific to solutions like Maximo, you can construct a classification and attribute scheme that can then be used to populate the Description field for many kinds of records. Once these Classifications are established, you can then apply them to your records. The result is a very consistent generation of the Descriptions for your records. Let’s take a look.

Create a Classification for Pumps, with a set of Attributes (and potential values) such as: Type, Size, Liquid, Power source.

Classification: Pump
Type: Centrifugal, Linear
Size: 3-inch, 6-inch, 12-inch
Liquid: Fuel, Water, Hydraulic
Power Source: External motor driven, manual, electric

An aspect of defining the Classification and the Attributes is to set whether the Classification creates a Description for any new records. You can choose to have all or a subset of the Attributes included in the Description.

A new item (or material) record Description, with the Classification applied would look like:

Description = Pump, Linear, 6-inch, Water, Manual

Now your users can search using any combination of the key words in the Description and be assured they get the list of records they are interested in.

What about the tension between Location and Asset records?

There is tension?

A bit of a side topic but establishing numbering schemes for these two types of records can take a little thought so that you have a long-term solution.

A Location is a place where Assets reside. It might temporarily be a storeroom, maybe a room in a building, or an area/space where asset(s) can be. Assets might move in and out of the Location, or they may be bolted to the floor in the same place for 30 years. An Asset could simply be located in Building 101, or perhaps it is on Pad 4, Room 203, Floor 2, Building 101, Quad 3, Amhurst Site.

One common source of naming/numbering Location records is a Piping and Instrumentation Diagram (P&ID). Using the standard numbering/naming approach in the typical P&ID, you can easily use the approach to define your Location record IDs, and the Descriptions for each.

Given that, now you are free to identify your Asset records as you wish. An Asset record does not need to have any relationship to its current P&ID Location. For example:

Location = Valve-1234

Asset = 45623V – Valve, butterfly, 3-inch

When it comes time to replace the valve Asset at the Location, the old one is removed and replaced with a new Asset. The Asset number will surely be different, but the Description may be nearly identical.

Maybe in your context you do not consider the Valve as an Asset. Rather it is just a throw away. You simply grab one off the shelf and replace it. The work details you capture would then be against the Location, not down to the Asset level.

Which standard/approach should I choose?

You do not need to adopt any particular “industry standard,” to be successful at implementing an approach to record numbering/standardizing Descriptions to the benefit of your user communities. As described above, your CMMS/EAM may have features/functions that support you out of the box. If you develop your own scheme, be sure it is well documented!

However, if your industry, or the outside entities you interact with have an established standard, then you should investigate if implementing a particular standard is to your benefit. It is no simple task to adopt and implement a standard, so be prepared for the necessary work.

You may discover a decision to make: Do we retrofit our current data to comply with the new standard? Or do we start from a certain date or number and adopt from there? This is not always a clear choice, so some thought is needed. It is very certain that no matter which way you choose, you will need to hire some database smarts who will help you make any transformations of the data needed. Yes, you will get down into the weeds of your CMMS/EAM system a bit.

Where do I begin?

Do your own research into the standards/approaches that your industry may be using. Then, get some help to analyze how your current CMMS/EAM supports the adoption of the standard or the implementation of one of your making. TRM and IDCON are very experienced in the implementation of many standards and even typical noun/attribute approaches to record naming. We have experienced many of the ins and outs of a variety of standards over the years and are confident we can save you some time, headaches, and future gotcha’s!



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